Thursday, August 26, 2010

The First Round of Louisiana's Final Closed Congressional Primary, Part II

One strategy I was surprised the Democrats did not employ in their bid to unseat Republican US Senator David Vitter was to field credible candidates against the three Republicans who won their seats two years ago without a majority vote.

It just so happened that those three districts have the three highest concentrations of black voters in the state and that at a minimum, the competitive congressional races would drive up turnout that would have a trickle-up benefit to Democratic US Representative Charlie Melancon's candidacy for Congress' upper chamber.

But the embattled position of the Democratic Party nationally means they cannot utilize elaborate political schemes and has translated into token opposition to Republican incumbents in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Districts, which is noteworthy since Congressmen John Fleming (4th) and Bill Cassidy (6th) both won their seats two years ago with less than a majority- and in the case of Fleming with the last ballot boxes trickling in. Things will be quiet for five Republican congressmen until reapportionment takes shape next year.

There are only two party primaries for the US House of Representatives in Louisiana, though they are in different districts.

In the Third District, three Republicans are battling for the Republican nod to face Democrat Ravi Sangisetty to succeed the seat Melancon vacated to run for the US Senate.
Short a collapse by the GOP and a bitter fight that spills beyond the primary (which isn’t unprecedented in Louisiana and in the Third District specifically), winning the Republican nomination should be almost tantamount to election.

Kristian Mager, Hunt Downer and Jeff Landry are the candidates seeking the Republican nomination with the latter two being the leading candidates. Downer has established name recognition from his decades in the legislature, a well-stocked campaign account and has the advantages of being from the geographical heart and population center of the district (Houma). However, Landry has run a spirited and aggressive campaign from the start, challenging Downer’s previous party affiliation and ties with ex-Governor Kathleen Blanco, whose popularity in the eastern portion of the district (that being the area most affected by Hurricane Katrina) is abysmal.

The race is going to boil down to whether Landry’s tacking hard to the right and constant swinging at the ex-House speaker trumps Downer’s aforementioned considerable advantages. In some ways, this race has striking parallels to the 1999 special election in the First Congressional District between ex-Governor Dave Treen and ex-State Representative David Vitter. Also does Magar pull enough votes to throw the race into a second round?

When the GOP banned independents from participating in the primary, the move had the most detrimental effect on Downer, who has a much broader base of support than Landry. If Landry prevails, the retired National Guard general could be the biggest casualty from the state Republican Party’s exclusivity position.

In the Second District, four Democrats are vying for the right to challenge Republican incumbent Joseph Cao in what is potentially one of the few new seats the national Democrats hope to pick up in what is increasingly looking like a tough year.

Of the four, state representatives Cedric Richmond and Juan LaFonta have the most name recognition though Eugene Green, an ex-aide to convicted former Congressman Bill Jefferson, has been rumored to have a hidden advantage through his old boss’s political network. I’ll believe that when I see it as Green as thus far conducted a virtually invisible campaign.

Richmond was the candidate to bet on from the beginning though scandal and controversy has followed him as negative story continue agonizingly drip upon his candidacy in the closing days of the primary. LaFonta, who raised six-figures though invested it in overhead, has only recently taken to the airwaves in a last minute attempt to exploit Richmond’s new-found weaknesses.

LaFonta has also not been shy about employing language that can easily be inferred to be divisive, with the slogan “Working Hard for OUR Community”, a reworked version of Sherman Copelin’s infamous “Fighting Them For Us”. I’m sure candidate LaFonta has a prepackaged “honorable” explanation for the slogan, that it somehow doesn’t mean what a cynical person who has followed city elections might interpret it to mean.

Despite the problems, Richmond maintains a number of advantages including the support of New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Richmond has also attempted to spin the reports of potential impropriety as simply a part of a grandiose conspiracy involving, and I quote, the Republican Party, the birthers, those trying to remove President Obama from office and the Tea Party folks to stop the most electable Democrat from being nominated. (while I cannot speak for other members of the cabal, I’ve never known my party to be so forward-thinking and clever in politics. Any GOP benefit would be purely accidental). And some of the sources could hardly be labeled Republican.

However, the touch of scandal shouldn’t be too much of a handicap on Richmond, considering that Democratic voters supported the renomination of Jefferson two years before by a strong margin despite his more circulated problems. If a freezer full of cash couldn’t stop Jefferson from winning his party’s nod, it’s doubtful Richmond’s mistakes will stop him in the end.

The big question is whether the contest goes to a second round, which would give LaFonta a second shot at the nomination while improving Cao’s still tough odds by further bloodying Richmond and making the leading Democrat less light in the wallet.

The Early Call Will Be On-Line Saturday Night

Checkout on election night around 8 PM CST as The Early Call makes projections based upon selected early returns before the mainstream media.

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